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Editor’s note: this column is written by Mary Cervantes, business services coordinator at the Sonoma SBDC.

Access to capital often determines whether a small business owner can expand into new markets, add equipment and employees or start a new business. It used to be that when a business needed a loan they called on the local bank. But times have changed and so has the lending market.

On Thursday, Jan. 30, from 8 to 10 a.m., the American Canyon Chamber of Commerce is hosting an Innovative Funding Forum at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites at 5001 Main St. in American Canyon.

Those seeking money to start a business or expand an existing one will hear from a panel of experts on innovative funding tips and best practices.

Panelists include representatives from the State Assistance Fund for Enterprise, Business and Industrial Development Corporation (SAFE BIDCO), Slow Money, Working Solutions, Travis Credit Union and Mechanics Bank.

Each panel member will review funding programs accessible to small business start-ups and existing businesses through their traditional and non-traditional organizations.

SAFE BIDCO assists all types of small businesses at almost every stage of development. They serve as a non-traditional financing source for existing and start-up businesses whose financing needs are not met by traditional lending institutions.

One of SAFE BIDCO’s loan programs is the State Small Business Loan Guarantee Program. This funding program is designed to assist small businesses and farming enterprises in need of additional collateralization in the form of a guarantee to motivate a bank to lend.

Another non-traditional lending format is “crowdfunding,” or funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet. Slow Money, a crowdfunding network, is an organization helping to develop unique funding relationships and connecting entrepreneurs to companies providing information, products and support for sustainable food and farming businesses.

Slow Money chapters can be found nationwide; four are in California: Northern California, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Southern California.

Working Solutions is a nonprofit providing micro-loans to new and existing businesses throughout nine Bay Area counties. Their lending program includes microloans from $5,000 up to $25,000 for business start-ups and existing businesses with less than two years of sales history or $5,000 to $50,000 for businesses with more than two years of sales history. Working Solutions supports micro-enterprise growth to strengthen the local economy, create jobs and build strong communities.

Travis Credit Union and Mechanics Bank work with small businesses to secure loan guarantees through the Small Business Administration (SBA).  The SBA operates loan guarantee programs that are designed to help small businesses access the capital they need. These programs are designed for businesses that may have a hard time obtaining credit on their own.

Established businesses with good credit can apply for a business loan directly from a bank or credit union without going through the SBA.

To reserve a seat for the Jan. 30 Innovative Funding Forum, go to amcanchamber.org or call 552-3650. The cost to attend is $10 for chamber members, $20 for non-members.

Beth Pratt is the associate dean of economic workforce development grants and programs at Napa Valley College. Reach her at 253-3113 or epratt@napavalley.edu.

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